By Karrie Webb
WITH golf booming over the past 18 months during the Covid-19 pandemic, with participation and membership numbers up for the first time in years, now is not the time for status quo but for progress and change.
Golf has always been slowly reactionary rather than being proactive in elevating and changing our sport to be more welcoming and inclusive.
Golf has many great traditions that make our game what it is and why we love it, but we also hold on to many that hurt progress and the growth of the game.
For quite a number of years now, my concern has been the decline in kids and young people playing the game, especially girls and young women.
While numbers are up recently across the board, how do we retain these people and encourage even more to the game? Change!
I know change is scary, but for the future of our game now is the time to keep up with society. Nearly always in golf the answer has been “well, this is the way it’s always been”, and that simply isn’t good enough anymore.
If we want golf to continue to thrive we need to change the stereotypes and make the game more welcoming, especially for girls and young women.
The R&A and the USGA have both placed the importance of the growth of participation in this area as their number one priority.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that female participation is still very much an untapped market.
Golf Australia – along with the other leading golf bodies including the PGA of Australia, WPGA, and GMA – have formed Vision 2025 in an effort to increase female participation in Australia.
I’ve been proud to be a part of this work as well and already a lot of great work has been done.
I wasn’t immune to experiencing uncomfortable situations and discrimination growing up in golf.
In fact, I still experience it from time to time which doesn’t surprise me but saddens me that our sport still has a long way to go.
These experiences obviously didn’t deter me from the game, but I was pretty single-minded about what I wanted out of golf.
How many girls and young women do we lose each year because the golf club environment where they play is uncomfortable and unwelcoming? How many don’t even try the game because of what they’ve heard?
Change has to happen from the pointy end down, all the way to grassroots golf.
Take what the R&A did to Murifield, a club that’s hosted 16 Open Championships.
In 2016 when the all-male Muirfield membership voted against allowing female membership, the R&A stood by their threat and told Murfield that they wouldn’t host another Open Championship until they did.
Months later Royal Troon, fearing the same repercussions, voted to allow women members.
Early the following year, Muirfield had another vote and this time it came back to allow female members.
Since then, Royal Troon has hosted the 2020 Women’s Open for the first time and in 2022 Muirfield will host it – also for the first time. Change is possible, even within the oldest associations and clubs.
In Australia this year, one of the most important tournaments on the men’s golfing calendar is being held at a club that won’t allow women to be full members.
They are still only “associate” members.
Our golf industry leaders in Australia need to follow in the R&A’s footsteps to never host future events at clubs that won’t comply with the Vision 2025 guidelines or have any discriminatory policies.
At club level, we need to start seeing that women have the same access to playing on Saturday’s as men.
We need to see more women on club boards and holding key positions within the club i.e. GM or club president/captain.
In clubs where women do have leadership, we need to be more welcoming to new female members and not make them jump through all the hoops of acceptance just because that’s what we had to do and it’s the way it’s always been done.
We need to have more flexible dress standards. Young girls look up to the best LPGA players, yet at most clubs they can’t wear the outfits their idols wear.
Let me be clear, I know there are already many clubs and facilities that are working hard to create more inclusive environments … and their membership reflects that.
Some changes are really very small yet have a great impact.
We can all play a part in how our sport grows no matter if you are a member of a club, a board member, a GM or one of the leaders of the golf industry.
I really encourage you all to go to the Golf Australia website, read about the work that is being done with Vision 2025 and see what you can do to grow our game.
If you all love the game of golf as much as I do, you should want people of all walks of life to enjoy it just as much.